×

Van Jones Talks About His Lumiere Award-Winning, Winston Duke-Starring VR Experience ‘The Messy Truth’ (EXCLUSIVE)

“The Messy Truth VR Experience,” a new virtual reality (VR) short-doc created by Van Jones and starring “Black Pather” actor Winston Duke, was awarded with the Advanced Imaging Society’s Social Justice Lumiere Award Wednesday night. In an exclusive interview with Variety, Jones opened up about the power of VR to overcome divisiveness with empathy.

“Media is being more and more used to either divide or distract,” Jones said. The TV host, activist and social entrepreneur argued that media was used either as a toy or a weapon, and called divisive clickbait “a symptom of laziness.”

Now, Jones wants to use VR to reach beyond those divides. “The Messy Truth VR Experience,” a first in a series of planned VR pieces, does this by putting viewers into the shoes of a African-American child, who is in the car with its father while getting pulled over by police.

“Everybody has been a child in a car,” Jones said, which made the experience universally relatable. But not everyone has experienced racial profiling, and the realities of interacting with police while black. “It is not a gruesome scene, but it is very disturbing,” he said.

Winston Duke on set in Los Angeles.

Winston Duke on set in Los Angeles.

To make “The Messy Truth” more immersive, Jones and director Elijah Allan-Blitz made use of a high-end VR headset in combination with a Leap Motion sensor. “It uses infrared cameras to track the movement of your hand,” said Allan-Blitz. “In the experience, you are looking down and you see your whole body.”

“It really does pull you in,” added Jones, who has seen people become very emotional after viewing the experience. “Sometimes, there is tears.” It probably also didn’t hurt that the duo was able to get Winston Duke, who played M’Baku in “Black Panther,” to play the father in the piece, something Jones called “a huge coup.”

“The Messy Truth VR Experience,” whose executive producer is Michael Dutton of 6cc Media, is currently being shown at the Technicolor Lab in Los Angeles. Jones and Allan-Blitz have plans to bring the experience to people across the country, possibly showing it in airports or shopping centers as well as at festivals. The exact distribution plan is still being worked out, as is a strategy for giving viewers a chance to take action after experiencing “The Messy Truth.”

Jones’ Magic Labs, 6cc and Allan-Blitz plan to produce additional VR pieces that give people a chance to experience new perspectives on issues like the plight of coal miners in Appalachia, the opioid epidemic and sexual harassment in the workplace. Ultimately, they also want to distribute those experiences as 360-degree videos for maximum exposure.

“I believe that there is a massive hunger for more empathy and understanding,” Jones said. VR could be the ideal empathy machine for this, and be part of an effort to use technology for good. Said Jones: “Right now, we have an overabundance of data and a scarcity of wisdom.”

More Digital

  • FaceApp is displayed on an iPhone,

    SAG-AFTRA Warns Members About FaceApp Terms of Use

    SAG-AFTRA is warning its 160,000 members about the “overreaching and invasive” terms of use for the FaceApp mobile application. FaceApp, developed by Russian company Wireless Lab, uses neural network technology to automatically generate transformations of faces in photographs. The app can be used to make users appear older, younger, or change gender. The terms include [...]

  • J. Cole

    Apple Music Launches 'Rap Life' Playlist

    Apple Music announced the launch of “Rap Life,” a new global playlist focusing on contemporary rap artists and culture. It replaces the former “The A-List: Hip-Hop” playlist. Said Ebro Darden, Apple Music’s Global Editorial Head of Hip-Hop and R&B: “We flipped it to dig deeper into into the lifestyle [and to] keep pushing the culture [...]

  • Billie Eilish

    ARRI, Mobile TV Group Back New Venture Revitalizing Streamed Concerts

    A new venture looking to bring a fresh approach to live-streaming concerts has gotten the backing of hardware heavyweights ARRI and Mobile TV Group. Wide+Close is launching with the mandate of shooting music performances with film cameras and cinematographers in order to give the content a more cinematic feel. “We want to take concert filming [...]

  • Fortnite Battle Royale

    How 'Fortnite' Fans Can Earn Loot by Watching YouTube Videos

    Epic Games and YouTube have teamed up with a special offer for “Fortnite” players — giving players of the popular battle-royale game rewards when they watch “Fortnite”-premiered content on the video platform. The catch: You have to watch at least 20 minutes of “Fortnite” special content or live esports broadcasts to receive the loot. Under [...]

  • Roku headquarters

    Roku Plans to Expand to Brazil, Other Countries (EXCLUSIVE)

    Roku plans to expand to multiple new territories in the coming months, Variety has learned. One of the first new markets for the company will likely be Brazil. An international expansion could help Roku grow its customer base, which in turn should lead to growing advertising revenues. Roku executives have been hinting at plans to [...]

  • Google Stadia Pro to Include 1

    Google’s Stadia Game Streaming Service to Include Free Monthly Game

    Google has been busy sharing additional details about its upcoming game streaming service Stadia, clearing up some confusion in the process. Stadia’s pro subscription tier, which will cost $10 per month, won’t be a Netflix-type subscription service. However, subscribers will get free games at the rate of about a title per month. That’s according to [...]

  • Crypt-TV-Facebook

    Facebook Signs Deal With Crypt TV for Slate of Five Horror Series

    Crypt TV, the digital studio founded by Eli Roth and Jack Davis and backed by Jason Blum, expanded its deal with Facebook, inking a content partnership to create a slate of five horror and monster-themed series exclusively for Facebook Watch. For Facebook Watch, it’s one of the first deals for a full slate of content [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content